JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
FORT ERIE – It has often been said that the wheels of government turn slowly. This is particularly true when the citizens in need of assistance are dead.
For more than a year, the remains of 10 “pioneer” settlers whose bodies were accidentally unearthed by employees of a local utility company working on a natural gas line have been hovering in a bureaucratic limbo of sorts, awaiting a decision by Queen’s Park officials as to their final disposition.
That wait should soon be over.
Bullet News has learned the provincial registrar for cemeteries is preparing a declaration that would pave the way for the remains, which are currently in the custody of a Toronto-based archeologist, to be repatriated to Fort Erie for reburial.
“The remains will either be re-interred in a registered cemetery within the municipality or the site (where they were found) will be established and registered as a cemetery,” Stephen Puddister, a spokesman for the Ministry of Consumer Services, told Bullet News on Wednesday.
“If the site is to be established as a cemetery, any remains and artifacts collected as a result of the excavation of the site will be returned and re-interred in the site,” he added.
Town of Fort Erie officials had assumed that would be the case, but not having received any formal communication or instructions from the province since last December, they couldn’t say for certain what the next steps would be.
“We haven’t heard anything,” town solicitor Heather Salter told Bullet News earlier in the day.
The first of 10 bodies was accidentally uncovered on Aug. 10, 2010 by a construction crew working on a natural gas line along the shoulder of Point Abino Road South, in Crystal Beach.
Niagara Regional Police were immediately called in to investigate.
With the help of a forensic anthropologist, they soon concluded the workers had discovered a historical burial site rather than a crime scene.
More skeletons were found during the following days, prompting the Town of Fort Erie to call in Dr. Ron Williamson and his team from Archeological Services Inc., in Toronto, to take over the dig.
Williamson is known locally for his extensive investigation of other archeological sites in Niagara during the past 20 years, including native burials near the Peace Bridge and War of 1812 graves near Old Fort Erie.
Careful examination of the remains and the burial site revealed the burials at Point Abino are of a Christian type.
Other historical evidence suggests the area, settled by United Empire Loyalists during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, may once have been a pioneer cemetery.
If the site was once a cemetery, it’s possible more bones could be found beneath the soil of the adjacent private property.
Williamson filed is report with the ministry late last year.
Puddister said the archeologist’s report is not yet a public document, but will eventually be posted to the website of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
Town officials say they expect the municipality will be responsible for all costs associated with last year’s dig and with reburial of the remains.